Today’s post comes from Miriam Kleiman, Program Director for Public Affairs at the National Archives.
We are saddened to learn of the death of Monuments Man Harry Ettlinger at age 92.
Ettlinger spoke at a National Archives ceremony on May 8, 2014 (marking the anniversary of V-E Day), when he and Robert Edsel, head of the Monuments Men Foundation, presented Archivist David S. Ferriero with the last known leather-bound so-called “Hitler Album” of artworks stolen by the Nazis. Found in Hitler’s home in Berchtesgaden, Germany, in the closing days of the war, the album was in private hands until the event.
This album, the fourth album donated to the National Archives by the Foundation, joins the 39 original “Hitler Albums” used as evidence at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. These albums are part of our extensive collection of millions of records created or received by the U.S. Government during and after World War II relating to Nazi-era looted cultural assets. As the Archivist noted at the event, “the National Archives has become the world’s leading resource on Holocaust-era assets, and these volumes enhance our role as that resource.”
At that time of the event, Ettlinger (then 88) was one of only six living Monuments Men. He spoke beside a photo of himself as a 19-year-old Army “buck private” viewing a Nazi-looted Rembrandt self-portrait that Monuments Men found and recovered. He shared that this masterpiece “had been in a museum three blocks from my home in Germany, but I was not allowed to go in because I was Jewish. Thanks to the Monuments Men, I finally got to see it.”
You can watch the National Archives’ video of this special event, including remarks by Ettlinger, as well as by the Archivist, Robert Edsel, and Greg Bradsher:
Washington Post reporter Mike Ruane captured the magnitude of the event in his story: “As a monumental man watches, the Archives gets an album made by Hitler’s art thieves.” Ruane wrote, “Ettlinger, a bald man with gray eyes and a gift for telling a story, was present to bear witness to the work he and his colleagues did, as well as the crimes of the Nazis.”
Ettlinger and his family fled Germany in 1938—the day after his bar mitzvah and right before Kristallnacht, the anti-Jewish riots at the start of the Holocaust. They moved to New Jersey. He was drafted after high school and sent back to Germany, where—as a fluent German-speaker—he was assigned as an interpreter for the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. In advance of the trials, he volunteered for the Army’s Monuments Men, a now-famous force of Allied soldiers who risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of precious art and culture by Nazis.
Before the event, he met with the Archivist Ferriero and Dr. Greg Bradsher, archivist and expert on Holocaust-Era Assets. Other staffers and I had the pleasure to meet and talk with Ettlinger and were moved by his enthusiasm, excitement, and pride. The Archivist keeps an autographed photo of Ettlinger in his office.
Healthy, strong, and inspiring, Ettlinger became a public face for the Monuments Men Foundation and traveled extensively with Robert Edsel to share his incredible experiences. And he made it to the big screen in the Monuments Men film (based on Edsel’s book). Ettlinger was played by Dimitri Leonidas.
Ettlinger, on behalf of the remaining six living Monuments Men, accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on October 22, 2015 (see his presentation and related press release). The award is Congress’s highest honor of appreciation for distinguished achievement.
Ettlinger will be remembered, and the National Archives will continue to preserve and make available the records and legacy of the Monuments Men.
And search the International Research Portal to Nazi-era records, launched by the National Archives in 2011, with digital access to millions of these records through a single portal.